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From Steel Mill To Sale Steal

Published: June 25, 2014 8:37 am ET

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“When he turns 14, I’ll be 70 and I think we’ll retire together.”

When the steel mill that employed Jim DeChellis closed in 2003, the future was uncertain. In partnership with his son, Nino, DeChellis decided it was time to expand his part-time employment in the industry to full-time. Pooling resources, the two ventured to the Summer Mixed Sale in London in 2004. With only $5,000 to spend and other horses exceeding their budget, the pair returned home with two-year-old Whippet Good for $4,700. The gelding, trained down and qualified by Jim Ainsworth, bore a Hip Number that caught DeChellis’ eye as 213 also stood for his birthday, February 13th.

That was ten years and 337 starts ago in DeChellis’ care. The son of Island Fantasy has had a career with bumps along the way, the most predominant an incident in 2011.

In October of that year, tragedy struck. A terrible accident felled Whippet Good and Jason Brewer, putting doubt in DeChellis’ mind if he would ever race again.

“I thought he was done. He was in rough shape, over fifty cuts covering him. He was really stiff for the three days following; we turned him out with a riding horse. Two days after, he was hollering for attention. He saw the other horses hooked and it was like he was saying ‘When’s my turn?’”

Whippet Good’s recovery was phenomenal. He healed quickly and was eager to get back to the track. On December 17 (in just his fourth start since the accident), he went out and made DeChellis proud.

“I was really proud of him that night. He went out there, after that horrific accident, and showed everyone he still had it in him. I thought he would never race again, and there he went, winning at Woodbine in 1:51.4.”

Being twelve years old has not slowed down the seasoned veteran, literally or figuratively. His most recent start was a win over Mohawk with Jack Moiseyev in the bike in 1:51.2, his fastest mile in nearly a year.

“Every time I think about quitting with him, he goes out there and does something great.”

A horse that has made over $900,000 the hard way, DeChellis is modest about the gelding’s success.

“The only thing I have really contributed to him is I’ve been around horses for 40 years, so you do learn a few things over the long run. I’m ordinary, he’s special.”

“Saturday Night Special” or “John Travolta” as the horse is nicknamed is well-loved around the barn. His distinct personality shines through in everything he does. Good with counting laps around the track and days of the week, he knows what is expected of him every time he leaves his stall.

“One day I was out jogging him and he decided he was going to stop. I came back with the jogger, everyone ran out thinking something had happened, but he had just decided he felt like eating some grass.”

Grass, not a surprising weak point for a horse, is priority number one to Whippet Good. Even in the winter, it is a crucial part of the routine to dig through ice and snow just to get a mouthful during his daily walk.

Many of the horses that have faced Whippet Good in his career are long gone from the circuit. Horses known across the industry like Secrets Nephew and Boulder Creek have been bested by the trusty gelding. A winner on tracks of every size, age has not caught up to him. On Saturday night at Mohawk, he will step out onto the track in the hunt for his fiftieth career win.

“He’s a tough horse with a lot of determination. Summer is a good time for him because in the past, his front hooves have given him some problems. The track isn’t as hard as it is in the winter and he loves Mohawk. The horse takes care of himself; he’ll do what he can.”

DeChellis considers driver consistency important with Whippet Good. Driven predominantly by Jason Brewer for many years, he has had frequent starts more recently with Phil Hudon and Jack Moiseyev. A little touchy to steer at times, it can take a few drives to have confidence in his performance.

A horse that has built up quite a little fan base, he frequently has visitors. In the pacer’s mind, the most important visitor is a pony named Master. Brought to the sale to accompany their new purchase home, the now twenty-four-year-old pony has been Whippet Good’s faithful companion for ten years.

Virtually a member of the family, Whippet Good has a home for life with Jim DeChellis. But for now, he will continue to frequent the racing ovals as his competitive spirit has remained just as strong as it was ten years ago.

“We went looking for a horse because I lost my job and we got lucky. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”

(A Trot Insider Exclusive by Hannah Beckett)

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